We got to Sorkheh Bazaar's famous Café Ta'atre (Theater Café) before the two of them arrived. I was a bit nervous, but nervous in a good way, the kind that comes from anticipation. It was nuts to be doing this in the Islamic Republic, but it was the only way I could ever learn about a side of social reality we ignore.
I was not sure if Salar was going to come through; I had never asked him for this kind of favor. He said he would be there when I reconfirmed in the morning. I called him on his mobile phone, just to make sure, and he said they were on their way. This was really happening. I began boasting that my friend Salar was THE Player of Tehran, and could be counted on.
Just as I was thinking how fascinating it would be to meet an actaul hooker in Terhan, Firoozeh hinted that it would be best if I leave. “She may feel bashful in front of you.”
“I really doubt that she will mind me hearing her talk, given the profession,” I said feeling rather annoyed. “If she acts uncomfortable, I'll leave.”
Did Firoozeh think I was a pimp? I wanted to hear about the prostitution business first hand. This was the only way I would ever find out. The conversation then turned to money. How much should she be paid? Firoozeh asked about the going rate. I had no idea. “Depends if you are compensati her for the loss of business that night,” I joked.
A few minutes later Salar stepped in with a well-dressed young woman. She looked, well, not exactly like other hookers I had seen in Tehran. She was well-dressed, if a bit “bad-hejaab”. Okay, so her hair was dyed rather poorly, but she looked more like a girl you would see at Passage Golestan or even on Jordan Avenue. However before I had a chance to get a better look, Salar and I were very calmly and authoritatively told to leave so that the girl could speak more comfortably. I wasn't happy, but decided not to make a scene, given all the ears that were on us. We were talking in English and Persian.
It all started over breakfast with Firoozeh who is writing a novel. It was a pretty regular meeting and we chatted aimlessly about everything and nothing. In her usual habit, Firoozeh jotted down some notes as we talked, something that makes me lose track of what in the world I am saying as I try to figure out what and why she is writing. It was great to see her. She is a fun and adventurous woman. A few weeks earlier I had challenged her to meet up so we could “get into major trouble” together.
Right as we were about to leave, Firoozeh stopped, turned to me with a mischievous smile, and said: “So, how much trouble can you handle?” “More than you can dish out,” I replied, “what do you have in mind?” She made a request that cracked me up immediately and I replied “I'm in!” before I stopped laughing.
Firoozeh wanted to talk to a prostitute and a gigolo. It would help her to develop some characters for her novel. She had heard that gay men hang around Park Daneshju and that prostitution is not uncommon and wanted to know who these people are and how they view society. It was a great idea, I thought. The only problem was a flaw in her plan: she wanted us to drive around and try to pick up a hooker on the street, and then to explain that all we we wanted to do was talk. Hookers are not impossible to find, no doubt, not even on short notice. But she did not realize that they would approach a car with a young guy or two in it, not a man and a woman. Then there was the severe punishment if we were caught by the authorities (read 70 lashes).
I suggested letting me call to find out if any of the more promiscuous guys I knew could arrange something. Firoozeh suggested setting the meeting in a public place — a restaurant or a café. She gave me the choice between that very evening, or three days later. We left it off at “I'll see what I can do,” though the plan to check out the park for gigolos stood, until it was ruined by rain that night.
Back in the office, I picked up the phone and called a friend of a friend who would definitely know how to go about this. I love making an impression! The last time Salar had heard of me was three years ago. It was hard to explain what I needed in a round about way. So, I finally shut my office door and told him that I have writer friend who wants to meet a hooker. He had to call me back. An hour later he called and asked if my friend was tested for AIDS. “No, no, you fool! She is a woman and really wants to do meet a hooker and just talk to her,” I explained. “My choice of words is not a code for sex…” “Aaaah, I get it. No problem then,” interrupted Salar, “Just tell me when, and how many. Two enough?”
It took six or seven more calls to both sides to get a time that worked for all.
Salar and I left Firoozeh and the hooker alone at the coffee shop. But I was thinking about all the calls and all the effort I had made to set up this meeting. I felt betrayed for being kicked out.
– “So, how much is she in for?” I asked Salar as we trooped out to the street.
– “What do you mean?”
– “I mean, how much is she charging for the interview? What is the going rate anyway?”
– “What? No, she doesn't have to pay anything,” explained Salar in a tone that I was not sure was taarof or not.
– “Don't be an idiot. She can afford it. Anyway, you should not pay the hooker for her time. Hospitality is one thing, but … “
Salar looked at me in a confused gaze and stuttered, “What do you mean? You mean you wanted a REAL whore?!”
– “You are messing with me right?”
– “Are you serious? You meant a WHORE?”
– “What the hell did you think I meant when I said 'whore'?”
– “I thought … Shoot … I thought you meant a 'chick',” stuttered Salar. He was red as a rose. I realized immediately that this is not one of his famous pranks.
– “Who the hell is she?!” I screamed.
– “Just a friend; someone from the gang.”
– “You stupid idiot!” I yelled.
I grabbed his mobile phone and called Firoozeh immediately.
– “Hi, it's me. There's a terrible mix-up.”
– “You mean she's not …?” asked Firoozeh, sounding like she already had realized something was not right.
Salar and I looked at each other once more, not knowing what to do, or how this miscommunication could have happened. We then started laughing hysterically and nervously, not knowing what else we could do.
– “She… she is a family friend. She is getting married in three days and I am invited to their wedding,” cried Salar. “You are such an ass, you complete moron!”
– “I'm a moron?” I protested. “What the hell were YOU thinking when I said I needed a whore? Do I need to speak Turkish?”
– “Well, I figured you wanted a hooker the first time, but then when I called back and you said you just want to talk to her, and no sex was involved, I thought you just wanted a Westernized girl and that's when I said I could do it. I thought you were just using crude language.”
He scratched his bald head and added with a nervous but loud laugh, “It just made no other sense, who the hell wants to just talk to a hooker? No one around here…”
It turned out that all was well. Firoozeh had figured something was not right from the beginning and nothing offensive was asked. She continued the talk to the girl as if the original intention was to talk to a Westernized Iranian girl. Salar and I stepped back into the café, and laughed some more at the mess we had created, and mostly because we both felt amazingly stupid.
Later, as I escorted Firoozeh to her car, I apologized for the mistake and for taking their time like that. She showed a sense of humor and was really nice about it all. Firoozeh told me that one thing was for sure: I am no good at this business. My pimping career was over. I could live with that.